Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Students, Humana People to People, Rajasthan, India, November 19, 2010

In this very room we had lunch minutes after this portrait. I sat on the bench to the right, and my two friends sat opposite me. We were fed with love and quenched our thirst with fresh milk squeezed just for this occasion.

As always the food was delicious but way spicier than my tongue could have ever handled. Glass after glass of milk was my only answer, and the family chuckled the entire time. When the pitcher of milk was turned over by accident and milk spilled by one of my friends, our hosts reacted only with even more generosity and kindness, quickly refilling it and cleaning the spilled milk. Their faces never showed a hint of displeasure, in spite of the precious resource lost.

What amazes me most about these families is that they let me in to photograph their girls without question, then feed us before feeding the children or themselves. The children sit and watch us eating, only happy that we are enjoying our meal. This is selflessness on an entirely different level, and is a testament to these wonderful, rural communities.

The picture above was made less formally than my usual work as we walked back to the car from our morning session. The room and colors immediately struck me, and the children took to the images quickly. Some sat down while others posed for their portraits with their siblings or parents. 

Two and a half years have passed since my time in these villages and I ache to return with fresh eyes. Looking at this image, as well as some of the less formal ones, gives me motivation to include the environment. The portraits without clutter will continue however, and compliment the environmental images in the telling of the stories.

I will return to this very room and hope that we don't spill the milk this time.


Note: This image was made with a Canon G10.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Young Boy, Decoration, Arbore Community, Lower Omo Valley, March of 2010

I need to get back there again, in better health and with a more refined plan. This image was made on my last photographic day in the Lower Omo Valley, and marked a happy yet sad moment. Working with these communities opened my eyes up to the possibilities, while the time allotted was certainly less than sufficient.

In my opinion it was a sip rather than a gulp, then again perhaps I was unready for the gulp. My health took a beating during this trip, and my guides were less than experienced with the necessities regarding such photography. I am still in contact with the wonderful person responsible for the previous arrangements and the next time we will get it right.

Rather than hoping to visit a dozen or so tribes, I will concentrate on four and spend much more time with each. Rather than my usual style, I will include the environment, go much closer physically and produce a body of work unlike my previous.

On this very day, perhaps less than thirty minutes after this portrait was made, the camera produced an almost inaudible snap. In my stomach butterflies started to give me the feeling that something was seriously wrong. The camera however continued to work properly and we went on to finish the afternoon and head back to the capital for my flight back home.

The boys were photographed first, on the bumper of the truck so as to elevate them. They were very surprised to see us for the second time, and we dropped by their small village as a change in plans was made. Instead of flying back to the capital while my guides drove back, I decided to go with them in the truck and experience the countryside on the way.

Flying was actually much more of a hassle, while the drive was much more comfortable and less prone to multiple security checks regarding my camera and film. This was worth the extra twenty hours or so of driving on its own.

After the boys were photographed it was time for the girls. This community is one of the few in Africa, outside of Islam, in which the girls and women wear a fabric over their heads. The color for most in this community also happened to be black, my favorite color when photographing in black and white. For our second session my aim was to accentuate the faces and remove the jewelry from view.

Everyone sat under the shade of a tree, and we called the girls one by one. Everyone was so patient, especially the youngest of the girls, since they waited hours for their turn. We arrived very early and had to wait for the sun to cool down a bit. Now it was their turn, but a feeling in my stomach told me something was wrong. We worked nonetheless and photographed all of them, leaving me with a thought also that these were the most perfect images thus far.

It was only upon my return to the States and another short photographic session at a local school that James from the local laboratory told me something was wrong with the local images. He had never seen it before but the exposures were damaged in a certain way. A streak of some sort ran down the entire film, on all of the rolls.

After taking this news in stride, I called the laboratory in charge of the film from Ethiopia to check and was advised that they had all of the film waiting to be processed yet. Being sensitive to their obligations I gave sufficient time for a few rolls to be processed in order to check for this issue.

A few days passed by and yet nothing was reported. My patience grew thin and a call was made advising of such. Rather than being upset at me, Dave took the time to listen to my worries and promised to process one roll from each day of the trip, and report to me by the end of the day. As it turned out he worked on my film after his official duties were over, well after his work day ended. His dedication to me and my work cannot be described here, I lack such words.

A few hours later he called me with great news... in light of the situation. All of the rolls processed were perfect, except for the last roll of the last day. The first roll from that last day was fine... so somewhere in between the first roll and the last roll of this day something went wrong. Those butterflies came rushing back and I knew that the sound I had heard was the sound of chaos.

The spring in the lens did snap, and all of the film of the girls was ruined. To this day the film sits uncut in my home, a testament to the delicacy of working with film, and to the idea that nothing is promised to me.

I need to get back there again, if just to make portraits of this most beautiful community and its girls. I owe this to them.


Note: This image was made with a Hasselblad V System.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Sheikh and his Daughter, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Summer of 2009

I have known this man and his family for over sixteen years. In this small, tent city my photography was born. Since we first met five of his children have been born, including the young girl standing next to him. He is a brother to me, as she is a daughter.

Along with my blood family nearby, these are the faces that greet me in Lebanon. The expression on her face is the expression she shows me time and time again. She is aware of my love for her, and he allows this love to be expressed. In my travels this is quite rare, regardless of culture or location.

As a matter of fact, during this visit it happened. We were walking back from the end of the dirt path towards this very spot when she looked up at me and said these words: 'you are my father, my uncle and my brother.'

She said these words without pause in response to my words: 'you are my mother, my sister and my daughter.' This is how comfortable this family allows me to be. While the work can be difficult at times, should anything happen that makes me feel like leaving, one conversation with this man and everything is straightened out.

On one occasion his own brother and I argued and it seemed that my work was finished. When he caught wind of the argument, he took it upon himself to call a meeting with the elders of the village. They listened to both sides and allowed me back into the village and into the lives of their girls.

This summer will mark three years since my last visit, and due to the instability in the region this year it seems improbable once again to visit. These wonderful people are Syrians living in Lebanon for the sake of work. Their girls work in the fields at least twelve hours a day while the boys work in various shops around town.

They live incredibly difficult lives, and do with the minimum while working in Lebanon until their return to Syria. It seems that this return is in peril at this moment, but my hope is that peace returns to their homeland and that they are safe while in Lebanon.

Halim Ina Photography

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Two Boys Playing, Daasanach Community, Lower Valley of the Omo, Ethiopia, February 5, 2010

This piece is less than one minute in the lives of two young boys from the Daasanach Community of the Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia. While waiting for the sun to reappear we decided to document the children having fun, and the boys took as much pleasure in doing so as the girls. Two by two sat down and performed for the lens without direction, a surprise from one set to another.

People sat behind me to the left watching, and also beyond these two boys going about their chores. As fast as the boys sat up two others took their places. The village itself is separated from the general Ethiopian population by a small river, and has the feeling of another world. When we arrived on the other side we sat down at the local eatery, and noticed around us some tourists with their guides and locals attempting to make a living from the same industry.

The contemporary world has taken its toll in this corner of the world, as alcohol flowed quite easily throughout the afternoon. The supply of labor outpaces that of the demand, and people do what they can in order to support their families. We were offered translation skills, as well as manual labor with the equipment. When we needed the help we certainly accepted the offers, as was the case with this community since the language was an issue for our small team.

My time with this specific village marked my sickest day in Ethiopia, and prevented me from truly documenting these most beautiful people. Getting across the narrow river was very difficult for me, and on our way back it was necessary to stop for a few minutes at the bottom of the climb to gather my senses, preventing me from fainting actually.

While very little time was spent here, less than three hours actually, the images made are incomparable and have given me a glimmer of hope for my next visit. Plans are already being made with South Expedition in order to fully document this community as well as three others, and bring a sense of accomplishment that is at this time lacking.

Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Girl, Student, Humana People to People, Rajasthan, India, November 19, 2009

On a wonderfully sunny morning deep inside Rajasthan we arrive at this village. The dirt path leading to it wound around a mountain, and we drove slowly so as to keep the dust levels down for the villagers. The students were ready even in the coolness of the early morning, and elders huddled around a small fire watching us from a distance.

The scene was peaceful and quiet. We walked between homes and arrived at a small courtyard in front of a beautiful, white wall. A woman sat to the left of the entrance, working with a fire and going about her chores. My dear friend Baba from Humana People to People India went about gathering the girls and organizing the photography while I set up the cameras.

This was my second time in the village, the previous year hampered by poor timing regarding sunlight. We intended to make better images for the girls this time, and organized the girls from eldest to youngest. This is usually done to allow the older girls to return to their chores, so as to work within the framework of the village. Humana People to People India has done a wonderful job balancing the activities sought with those already established. The elders sitting nearby watched us working without once commenting in a negative manner. This has always impressed me with the foundation, and has given me the perception that our work is respected.

As the girls watched their friends being photographed, each would get an idea to do something different. The first girl might stand in front of the crowd with her arms to the side, then the next would dare to put her hands on her waist. This continued until the one above had the courage to share her attitude with us, thumb in her pocket and her shoulders back... uncommonly beautiful indeed. In light of the fact that almost all of her elders were watching less than twenty meters away, courage is an understatement.

We finished with the photography, gathered our equipment and walked over to have a wonderful meal accompanied by warm milk. The fact that all of the ingredients were gathered from the adjacent fields and that the milk was from the family's oxen only enhanced the experience. We sat on hand-made benches in a most beautiful structure made from mud and cow dung. The meal was of course spicier than anything from my experience, and the milk was sincerely appreciated. Glass after glass of milk was taken in to the surprise of the family, all of whom were smiling as they watched me quench the heat with the milk.

These are the times that I wish I could hang around the village and document to my heart's content. Having to depart after the meal leaves me with an ache, and soon that ache will be erased. This fall I hope to visit these villages once again and spend days in each documenting the reopened schools, then following the girls as they perform their chores. This is my hope.

Halim Ina Photography

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Mursi Boy, The 23rd Roll, Lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia, February 13, 2010

In the remote Lower Omo Valley of Ethiopia twelve expressions were recorded on film of a young boy from the Mursi Community. Spoken language was unavailable to us, so we exchanged expressions for words and exposed frames of film like clockwork for perhaps one minute or less. Behind me was his community, talking to him and helping him feel at ease in front of the camera. Like children everywhere the reactions are quite familiar and have proven to me the interconnectivity that binds us all regardless of cultural, religious or political differences.

With this small community I spent the majority of my three weeks in Ethiopia, and was almost unable to break free from this collaboration to pursue the next community on our short list. We stayed at a local village less than two hours away, a distance normally traveled in perhaps thirty minutes under different road conditions. The two locations were split by a mountain range that ended up being quite dangerous, and always entailed us heading in and out during times of minimal sunlight. Looking back perhaps our decisions could have been made differently. Then again I look at these twelve expressions and am glad to have made a few mistakes on the way.

While the place is remote, these communities are very familiar with the tourist industry. Their faces are plastered on the walls of the tourism offices all over the country, although most Ethiopians have themselves never visited. As a matter of fact the only Ethiopians encountered on my travels outside of those living in the area were either drivers or guides making a substantial living from tourism. On countless occasions our driver would slow down to say hello to one of his friends going in the other direction in an air-conditioned SUV carrying usually three to four passengers. Most vehicles were either for construction or for tourism, with very few carrying private Ethiopian citizens.

Our truck happened to be a beautiful, vintage Toyota Land Cruiser, without the usual conveniences. On our way into the territory we were advised to purchase all of our water and food in advance. This meant that all of the water would travel with us, heated to the outside temperatures and hot enough to make tea on most occasions. We were of course fortunate in that most in the area lacked such clean water, were unable to even purchase a single bottle and saw these bottles as wonderful storage containers for their day to day use.

On a few occasions the truck gave our driver his share of headaches, from battery problems to petrol issues. What amazed me most about this man, even though we had our share of disagreements during our three weeks, was his ability to fix almost anything with the most humble of tool kits. He was most resilient, and treated his vehicle with a gentle hand. He worked for someone else, and was paid for his time rather than anything else. Any petrol over the agreed upon amount would have to come out of his pocket. This was the source of most of the conflict, until we spoke with the boss during our time with the Mursi Community.

At the motel waiting for the next day we ended up making a call to Europe where the manager of the operation was living at the time. He was most sincere and very diplomatic, allowing us to veer off of our planned course in order to achieve our photographic work, without penalizing either the driver nor the guide. While the danger of the route still worried everyone, at least we were now free to stay as long as necessary to document the area. The above images are the result of this conversation, for they would have been impossible otherwise.

I hope to return in a year or less to do much more.

Halim Ina Photography

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Girl, Student, Humana People to People, Rajasthan, India, November 19, 2009

It has been way too long since my last visit to her village, to her part of India.

During my years with Humana People to People India I have been fortunate to have witnessed incredible stories and to have documented them through the lens. Over a dozen villages have allowed me unlimited photographic access to their girls, and this has resulted in countless, intimate portraits like the one above.

Her school is now closed, but hopes to reopen this year with the guidance of the foundation. We have been given an opportunity to do our part, the easy part, and raise the funding necessary for the foundation to do the hard part. When asked they sought the same teachers from three years ago and four of the five teachers have happily agreed to return to teach.

In a previous post I describe the events of this morning, how these girls transformed from the most timid of spirits to girls unable to hold their smiles. The short version of the story is that certain adults were less interested in the well-being of the girls and more interested in finishing the session as fast as possible. After a short break and a discussion with the foundation, the situation was improved and a new location was found in order to complete the portraits.

The link is included below as a reference for the above image.

A Smile From a Frown

I hope to return to her village later this year, and to see her in class smiling like before.

Halim Ina Photography